London, British Library, MS Additional 15350 / Codex Wintoniensis

London, British Library, MS Additional 15350 is a mid twelfth-century cartulary known as the Codex Wintoniensis, or ‘Winchester Book’. It was compiled at the Old Minster, Winchester, and is generally considered, thanks to the lavish decorative scheme, to be one of the finest cartularies to survive from pre-Reformation England. Comprising some 119 folios, it was constructed in several stages, between the second quarter of the twelfth century and the second half of the fourteenth. For the purposes of clarifying its history, three phases may be distinguished:

  1. Cod. Wint. I (fols. 9–11v, 13v–67r and 67v–110): the core component of the book, which consists of transcripts of Anglo-Saxon documents that represent, so it appears, the pre-conquest endowment of Winchester Cathedral. It was made in 1129×1139, at an early point in the reign of Henry of Blois, bishop of Winchester (1129–71), with the intention of obtaining the restoration of the lands that had comprised the pre-Conquest endowment of the cathedral. As the brother of King Stephen, Henry was well-placed to obtain what he wanted. The Old Minster—Winchester’s cathedral church—is said to have been founded in 684 by Cenwalh, king of West Saxons (642–72), but the earliest grant recorded here dates from the brief reign of Cædwalla (685–8) whilst the latest dates from 1046, during the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042–65).
  2. Cod. Wint. II consists of folios and materials added at various points in the twelfth century. It includes many items that could have been included in Cod. Wint. I, but which were left out of the original compilation. One distinct group among them concerns Anglo-Saxon grants of tenements within Winchester and may be contemporary with a survey of the city carried out in 1148.
  3. Cod. Wint. III consists of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century additions of folios and documents to the cartulary.

Some sixteen scribes have been identified, but Cod. Wint. I, the component most relevant for present purposes, was largely the work of ‘Scribe A’, whose hand is typical of Winchester manuscripts dating from second quarter of the twelfth century. His writing has been described by Alexander Rumble as ‘a fine, regular Latin bookscript (protogothic textualis formata) which is large, round, and generally upright in appearance’ (Property and Piety, p. 6). The same hand also occurs in another manuscript from this period—Winchester Cathedral Library, MS 5, fols. 137–147v and 159–224v—a copy of Jerome’s Commentary on Isaiah.

fire beast After the illuminated initial that signals the opening of a new document, the scribe renders the first line in a display script of mixed square and rustic capitals and uncials. The second is rendered in rustic capitals. Standard miniscule script takes over in the third line. He deployed a different type of script for the vernacular material (i.e. the charter bounds) which is more angular and which involves the use of some special letter-forms, but as Rumble explains in more detail, his command of Old English (he confuses the letter forms æ and e) and understanding of the insular scripts that been developed to record Old English was relatively weak. He chose not to use the insular form of a, but did use round-backed d; insular f, g (which has a hook-shaped descender), h, r, and often s (long), also æ, þ, ð, [wynn], and y. He also uses rustic capitals are used as well as Ð and enlarged forms of æ, þ, ð, [wynn]. He is reckoned a faithful copyist, but he does sometimes alter the titles attached to the names in the witness lists. He designates various thegns (ministri) as ealdormen (duces), for example, apparently because he wished to give the lists a greater uniformity in keeping with the aesthetic requirements of the book’s patron rather than because he wished to deceive his readers.

A collaborator as well as a continuator of scribe A’s work, scribe B was responsible for entering the rubrics which appear at the head of several documents (e.g. the grant of Easton at fols. 72v–73r) and for correcting much of Cod. Wint. I. He was responsible for the earliest of the many additions that comprise Cod. Wint. II. He had several different styles of script, varying in their formality, but his hand is noticeably less regular and impressive than that of the scribe A. When copying documents, scribe B sometimes left out the witness lists in order to save space, and sometimes regularised their titles after the manner of scribe A; but he appears to have copied the main text in full.

It is worth noting, though it is not relevant to the present seminar, that the book still has its original, medieval, binding, which was joined to the whole with paste downs taken from a large early medieval book written in uncial script (s.vii?). The texts on these leaves have been identified as fragments of the Vitas Patrum, ‘the Life of the Fathers’, as translated into Latin by Peter the Deacon (xiii.9–xiv.17).

For further analysis of the hands, see Rumble, Property and Piety, pp. 6–9.


Online Images: The British Library’s Online Gallery provides access to a several other images from Additional 15350, including (1) fol. 9r, the beginning of a grand and lengthy charter in which King Edgar (959–75) makes (or is made to make, since much of document has been interpolated) a general confirmation of the endowment and privileges of the Old Minster at Winchester; (2) fol. 40v, which has the greater part of a charter in which King Cnut (1016–35) grants to Earl Godwine land at Poolhampton in Overton, Hampshire; and (3) fol. 102r, whose contents include the beginning of a charter in which King Eadwig (955–59) grants to Æthelhild, the daughter of Edward the Elder, land at Droxford in Hampshire.

Items for Discussion:

  1. Grant by King Edgar of Withiel Florey, Somerset, to his man Cenwulf (fol. 25rv; Sawyer 697). This is a copy, and probably a direct copy, of the original charter now preserved as London, British Library, Harley Ch. 43, C.2. The text is inserted amid other materials relating to the Minster’s holdings in Somerset. An image of folio 25r, comprising the text of the charter as far as to woddan beorge, towards the beginning of the Old English boundary clause, is available from the British Library’s Online Gallery.
  2. Grant by King Edgar of Easton, Hampshire, to Bishop Beorhthelm of Winchester (fols. 72v–73r; Sawyer 695). The original having been lost, this is the only surviving record of the grant to Beorhthelm, who was briefly bishop from 960 to 963, of the large estate at Easton, which was situated immediately to the north and east of the city of Winchester. Though the document describes the estate as a certain particle of rural land (aliqua ruris particula), its valuation at seven-and-a-half hides indicates that it was a substantial property. The grant dates from before the Benedictine reform of the Old Minster (964), and as Rumble explains, it appears to have been made for the bishop’s own benefit. The estate was evidently to be treated as his personal bookland, rather than as an endowment for the benefit of his church. It is a witness to the culture of the clerical establishment that would soon be swept away by Bishop Æthelwold (963–84).
        Part of the prehistory of this estate can be reconstructed from Sawyer 1275, an authentic charter issued by Bishop Ealhferth between 871 and 877 in which he leased part of this land to a dux called Cuthred and his wife Wulfthryth. This estate was to revert to the church at Winchester when the lease of three lives had expired. It is difficult to square the contents of this record with those of the present document. One explanation might be that the land granted to Cuthred had fallen into the hands of the king and it was now being restored to the bishop of Winchester, but it not difficult to imagine other scenarios.
       The text of Sawyer 695 is printed in (1) J. M. Kemble (ed.), Codex Diplomaticus Aevi Saxonici, 6 vols. (London, 1839–48) [34MU5 Enquiries], no. 1230; (2) W. de G. Birch, Cartularium Saxonicum: A Collection of Charters Relating to Anglo-Saxon History, 3 vols. and index (London, 1885–99), no. 1076; and now (3) A. R. Rumble (ed.), Property and Piety in Early Medieval Winchester: Documents Relating to the Topography of the Anglo-Saxon and Norman City and its Minsters, Winchester Studies 4.3 (Oxford, 2002), no. XXII [MWCM.K], who provides an excellent translation, a clear map and a thorough commentary.
        As a useful preparatory exercise, students should download the text from the Moodle Website, and break it down into its component sections after the example set by Rebecca Rushforth’s analysis of Sawyer 697.

Commentary (for Sawyer 695)

  • Finberg, H. P. R., The Early Charters of the Wessex, Studies in Early English History 3 (Leicester, 1964), no. 95 (authentic). MVC.C.
  • Franklin, M. J. (ed.), English Episcopal Acta, vol. 8, Winchester, 1070–1204 (Oxford, 1993). MVE.K.
  • Hart, C. R., ‘The Codex Wintoniensis and the King’s Haligdom’, in J. Thirsk (ed.), Land, Church and People: Essays presented to Prof. H. P. R. Finberg, Agricultural History Review 18, Supplement (Reading, 1970), pp. 7–38 (at p. 32). MU7.
  • Keynes, S. D., The Diplomas of Æthelred ‘the Unready’ 978–1016: A Study in their Use as Historical Evidence, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought, 3rd ser. 13 (Cambridge, 1980), pp. 234–5, 239, and 245 (on the alteration of the status of the witnesses). MVD.
  • King, E., ‘Blois, Henry de (c.1096–1171)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004). Includes a reproduction of the image of Henry from the obverse side of his seal.
  • Robertson, A. J. (ed.), Anglo-Saxon Charters (2nd edn, Cambridge, 1956), no. 14 (pp. 26–27 and 286–8): prints and translates Sawyer 1275.
  • Rumble, A. R., ‘The Purposes of the Codex Wintoniensis’, Proceedings of the Battle Conference on Anglo-Norman Studies, 4 (1981), 153–66.
  • Rumble, A. R. (ed.), Property and Piety in Early Medieval Winchester: Documents Relating to the Topography of the Anglo-Saxon and Norman City and its Minsters, Winchester Studies 4.3 (Oxford, 2002), pp. 5–9 (for a description of the manuscript and an excellent analysis of the palaeography of the hands). MWCM.K.
  • The Electronic Sawyer, no. 695.

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